The constraint of the four-year college

Many families, especially those with students in the high-performing districts in Oakland County, are bound and determined to ensure their child’s admittance to a four-year college or university. While this is a good fit for some, for others, 18 is simply too young for a high-pressure environment away from home. Especially for teens who have been “helicopter parented,” being suddenly unmoored from the constant support and touchstone of their families is simply too much to take all at once.

Unfortunately, there is often extreme social pressure on both teens and their parents about “where are you going to school?” Students who don’t want to go away to school may not understand they have options — and often their parents also don’t think there are acceptable options. Yet the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that the average bachelor’s degree completion rate for community college transfers was about 60%, compared to the slightly less-than-50% completion rate for students who started in a four-year program at a college or university. For students who transferred after completing an associate degree, that percentage jumps to 71%.

Think about what exactly these statistics mean:

  • Nearly half of all students who start at a four-year college or university will not complete their degree within six years.
  • A high income level does not significantly change this statistic. Only half the students from families with an income of more than $90,000 will have a bachelor’s degree by age 24; only 1 in 17 students from families with an income less than $35,000 will graduate.
  • More than two-thirds of students who complete an associate degree before transferring will complete their bachelor’s degrees within six years (including time spent at community college).
  • As a point of comparison, the in-state rate per credit hour at Michigan State University is $513; at Oakland Community College, it is $92.
  • More than 30% of all freshmen at four-year colleges and universities drop out. If they took 12 credit hours each semester, that is a cost of at least $12,000 for tuition alone, compared to a tuition cost of around $2,200 for the first year at a community college.

These statistics are even more tragic when you consider the more than 50% of students who don’t finish their degree are often saddled with crushing student debt and no increased earning power to compensate.

Lower cost not only lowers debt accumulation, it can allow young students to explore a variety of different topics, so that when they do transfer to a four-year institution, they have a much better idea of what they want to continue to study. It is not unusual for students to change majors, which is why colleges use a six-year completion rate as the statistical standard for success.

Another advantage can be freeing up money for a student to take a gap year after they’ve completed their associate degree. Students can also opt to go more slowly and work full or part-time while taking classes, to help them figure out what education they really need to meet their career goals.

There are many options for students to start their community college studies before graduating high school. In Michigan’s Oakland county, these options include dual enrollment, early college, Oakland Schools ACE program (a partnership with Oakland Community College), Oakland Technical Schools’ early college programs, and homeschooling to complete high school requirements with college coursework.

Of course, this does not even begin to explore the myriad skilled professions (e.g., master electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, etc.) that require intensive, multi-year apprenticeships. During a time as an apprentice, students are paid to work in their field of choice while also taking classes, often on the weekends. Those who complete an apprenticeship have no student debt and have skills that are and will continue to be in very high demand around the country.

As parents, we need to better connect with what our children want, what type of education best aligns with their interests and abilities, and be willing to buck against the constraints of thinking admission to a four-year college or university is the only reasonable option.

– Kathy Henry is an adoptive parent to two teenage boys. She is also a marketing consultant, business coach and copywriter who volunteers for several organizations, including the Beaumont Parenting Program.



Disney with an ADHD kid

“Castle Show” by ToolManTimTaylor, Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Like many parents, my husband and I strive to give our kids a magical childhood. I have no regrets.

So, late last year, we started planning a trip to Disney World for our twins, who would be 7, and told them about the vacation after Christmas.

For five months they waited patiently (and impatiently at times) for the big day: this would be their first plane ride, first time in Disney and first time skipping a week of school. I was excited to give them this magical experience, to be the facilitator. Honestly, when they met Mickey, I was near tears.

While Disney is every kid’s dream, it can also be a nightmare, especially if they have ADHD. With ADHD, everything is magnified, every sensation, because the brain doesn’t have the filter to help them process it. In short, it can wash over them like a wave they aren’t expecting.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World with your family and ADHD is in the mix, here are a few of the things I learned that might be helpful.

Set your expectations

When setting your expectations for this trip, set your expectations low. Nope, not low enough. A little lower. A little more. There. Way down.

Sure, we all want to have fun, but if you think it’s all magic, cupcakes and parades, you’re going to be disappointed. But don’t worry. You’re not the only parents going through this. For every excited princess or pirate I saw, I witnessed two meltdowns. It’s not just your kids. And it’s not just kids with ADHD. If you go into this vacation thinking it’s going to be a breeze, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Just take whatever comes at you and enjoy it. On this trip, it’s the little things.

Pace yourself

Disney is huge. You will not see it all and you don’t have to. Remember what your ADHD kid is processing: heat, humidity, parades, music, dancing, stores, stuffed animals, pin trading, bubble blowing, balloons by the hundreds, all kinds of smells, wild rides and so many people. Take frequent breaks. I found myself sitting in an air-conditioned store in Epcot in England for 90 minutes while my son cooled off and zoned out on my phone. It was super boring for me, but it’s what he needed.

Get a return time

Disney is a well-oiled machine that tries to accommodate every possible need of guests and they do a good job of it. Our first day at the parks, we made a beeline to guest services. I explained that our little man has ADHD and some sensory issues. The lady then reprogrammed my son’s Magic Band, so whatever ride he wanted to go on, he just had to ask the attendant for a return time. That meant we could wait for the ride without having to stand in line.

Plan, but be flexible

If you’ve ever planned a Disney trip, you know you have to make your dining reservations six months in advance, and you have to pick your FastPasses a month before you arrive. If your kid has had enough, you might just have to kiss those reservations goodbye. Your willingness to flex to your child’s needs will be the difference between a fun time and torture.

Be there for your other kid(s)

My biggest worry for our vacation wasn’t how my son was going to do. I already knew that. I was worried my daughter wouldn’t get everything out of it because of her brother. My husband and I decided to divide and conquer on those days. If our son needed downtime, one of us would take him back to the hotel while the other had fun with our daughter. And let me tell you, she lived her best life on that trip. It was awesome.

In all, Disney does it right for families. They make it easy to get around and they offer a ton of entertainment options. After we got back, I asked my son if he had fun in Disney and he said he did. When I asked how he liked it compared to our other trips, he said Disney was too much and he liked other places better.

But that’s OK with me. I agree.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins, and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

You’ve just gotta laugh

When I was 10, my dad made his television debut. Drumroll please… He was interviewed on the local news about what it was like to be stranded while driving through a blizzard. While my dad was at a dead stop on the Southfield Freeway, a reporter approached his 1981 black Ford Escort to talk about being stuck on the highway.

“You just gotta laugh at it,” my dad responded (at least that’s how they edited his entire interview). His 15-minutes-of-fame lasted for just a few seconds. Still, truer words could not be spoken. My dad couldn’t get to work. The freeway was a parking lot and he had no choice but to wait it out in his car on a snow-covered expressway that was temporarily turned into a parking lot. He was unavoidably stuck.

But my dad was right. You just gotta laugh at it. What else could he do? Getting upset wouldn’t prove anything and wishing his situation away would have been a waste as well.

That was a mantra that we frequently used growing up. But beyond laughing in the face of frustration or other unpleasant situations, humor plays an important role in our family.

For most parents, laughter is an incredible way to connect with a child of any age. It just sometimes gets harder as our kids get older. Seeing a baby smile for the first time is beyond magical. Toddlers are easier to amuse as are most elementary-school-age kids. Beyond those earlier years, eye rolls are so much easier to evoke than actual laughter.

With two teens and a pre-teen in our house, sharing a laugh helps keep us connected. It’s so much fun to bond over an inside joke or make a family member laugh uncontrollably.

As an added benefit, there are actual health benefits to laughing. According to various researchers, a good chuckle can possibly lower your blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels, improve your cardiac health, and increase your immunity. There is even a pair of researchers who touted an abdominal workout as one of the benefits of laughter. Imagine that: being able to skip a workout if you laugh enough!

OK, so I wouldn’t cancel my gym membership, but those are some good reasons to find more ways to laugh it up.

Parents, particularly dads, tend to rely on humor to connect with their children. There’s even a term for this phenomenon. They are called “dad jokes” – a.k.a. the kind of humor that often leads to loud groans and lots of eye rolling. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “dad jokes” likely help build stronger relationships between dads and their kids.

I spoke to a handful of local parents, including two comedians, about how and why they incorporate humor into their family lives, with each touting various benefits humor brings to their families.

One dad, a rabbi and father of five, uses humor to navigate some of the many challenges of parenting. Because discipline can be stressful for both parents and children, he finds that breaking the tension in an appropriate way is beneficial for him and his kids. Not that he doesn’t discipline. He just goes about it in a different way. So, for example, if one his kids doesn’t want to take a bath, they get stuck on the child’s refusal to get in the tub. If the dad can open his child’s mind with a little humor, it gets that child over the speed bump and willing to corporate.

How does he do it? A little bit of bathroom humor, like making a gas sound, always seems to work but he gets a lot of mileage out of tickling them too.

Family banter works well in another family, although they are careful not to cross the line and embarrass each other. And nobody gets offended because they know it’s all in good fun.

One local comedian plays improvisation games with his sons who are 12 years apart. Another way they keep things fun is by ignoring some of the rules when playing board games. This comedian’s advice: Be more spontaneous than what the rules allow and just have fun.

Other ways these families incorporate humor into their lives is by watching comedies together and capitalizing on shared experiences that are unique to their families. No matter how you chose to bring laughter in your family, remember – you just gotta laugh at it.

– Jen Lovy, Beaumont Parenting Program Volunteer

ADHD: You can survive and your kid can thrive

My posts lately have been themed around ADHD and the struggles we’ve had with it. I’m here to tell you, it’s not all bad. I promise.

We’ve seen amazing progress with medication, therapy and a 504 plan. We’re seeing more school work come home with higher and higher grades, and fewer reports of behavior problems. I’m truly about to burst with pride in the progress my son has made.

Have there been hiccups? Absolutely. But they aren’t as intense, and they are less frequent. It’s like we found the little boy we knew was in there somewhere.

I just wish we did this sooner.

When he was in preschool, I was the parent pulled aside just about every day. The teachers said not to worry, he’s just maturing. Somehow, I knew it wasn’t just a maturity thing, but they’re the experts and I listened. I don’t even know if anyone will diagnose a 4-year-old with ADHD, but that gut feeling was there.

See what I did there? Mom guilt. I’m still working on that, too. I have to tell you though, this is much easier to deal with knowing that it’s not a “bad kid” thing, or a “bad parenting” thing. Me realizing what my son’s brain is and isn’t capable of was a huge help for me. Simple things, such as me giving one direction at a time, have made an amazing impact on his frustration level and mine.

Another life saver has been setting timers. His brain, at this age and with ADHD, works in absolutes. Me saying, “We’re leaving in a few minutes,” means nothing. Me setting a timer and saying, “When the timer goes off, we’re leaving,” is an absolute. No arguing with that—and it works. Plus, I’m not the bad guy, the timer is. Win-win.

Once we started figuring this out, things got better.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: You don’t have to struggle. Much. Pediatricians, your own physician, a school counselor, teachers, principals and other parents are all there to help your child succeed. Let them help you. The support system I have with all these people in my life is the foundation for my strength as a mother. I’m not sure where I’d be without their humor, strength, confidence and non-judgmental actions. I love them all for the compassion they show my family and the shoulder they offer me.

So, there they are. The positives of ADHD. You can do this. If you are struggling and need a sounding board, reach out. We’re all in this together.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Your kids do what for a living?!

guitar player and drummer

One of my boys loved basketball, played baseball and some football, and got good grades in everything even chemistry. When he was 15, he saved up and bought his first bass guitar. His brother was equally athletic in baseball, loved snowboarding and skateboarding, and excelled in English and writing (not so much in math and science). I can’t even remember when he was not drumming. He got a drum kit when he was 13, but before that he took every opportunity to play his uncle’s drums and to tap on any available surface with whatever “stick” was handy.

Gigs, road trips and diligent practice sessions during high school, continued as my boys began college. After two years, I reluctantly let one of them take a year off to pursue music and later it only took a “we need a drummer” phone call to bring his brother home from school in Chicago.

Fast-forward to today.

It was not a phase. It was not a youthful adventure. It was not a Plan B. It is their life.

Is it hard? Yes. Is it lucrative? No.

As a parent, I struggled with some of the decisions I made about letting them leave school; I spent quite a few years worried about their choices. When asked about my kids, I would cringe when I heard responses like, “Oh, how fun! So when will they get a real job?” or “What else do they do?”

I feel for parents of young adults who have chosen a path that doesn’t include a four-year college degree. Sometimes there is tone of apology, regret or even embarrassment when talking about a child that doesn’t go to college right away, chooses a trade, gets “just a job” or joins a band.

How do we determine how to support the choices of our adult children?

This might help:

  • Ask your child: Are you happy? Are you uncertain? Are you afraid? How can I help?
  • Look at qualities that exist regardless of career choice: integrity, character, work ethic, friendships.
  • And sometimes we need to remember that children’s work doesn’t always define them. Other interests and passions are their true identity and “just a job” supports this passion.

My sons have traveled and made friendships all over the world. They are street smart, kind and hardworking. And the passion continues.

Even now as grown men, I wish I could wrap my arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the road and the disappointments of the music business.

But as far as the choice they made? I’m fine with it.

– Betsy Clancy, MA, LPC, is a group coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program.


couple holding hands at sunset

You know I am totally kidding.

The 20 years part is right on. The bliss… well, that part is just a fantasy; a social media hashtag that captions an image that leaves the rest of us feeling like there is something missing from our marriages.

This Valentine’s Day is special for us because my husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary. And as any couple knows, we have had our share of hard moments and happy ones — times when it would feel easier to be apart and days when we couldn’t live without each other. And with four kids in the mix ranging from 16 to 6, the truth is that there just isn’t a lot of time these days for each other.

But we can’t use that as an excuse. Because, let’s be real here, who wants to walk this life with a partner we feel constantly out of step with? So while we may not be the most romantic couple, we do hold hands (in the car when we head out to do errands) and we always kiss each other goodbye. And although we don’t post it on social media, we leave cards for each other when one of us is struggling or needing a reminder that they’re loved. Instead of getaway weekends, we take turns scheduling date nights and love watching a good Netflix series together at home. We grab a coffee together in between sports pick-ups and sometimes we just supermarket shop so we can have 30 minutes alone. Nothing groundbreaking here I know, but these small and simple (key for us!) moments become the glue that keeps us connected in this busy life of ours.

And just as much as we try to make these moments of togetherness count, we also encourage each other to step out. A weekend away with a best friend, a beer out with a brother or anything in fact, that helps remind us that we aren’t just a wife, husband, mom or dad. The missing each other part has become just important as the being together part.

Over the years we’ve learned a kind of dance that seems to work for us. And when we misstep, we realign. And we keep communicating. ALL. THE. TIME. And we try not to hold grudges because who has time for that? And yes, our kids hear us argue and sometimes see us leave the house for an hour or two because we just need a break. But I’m OK with that because they are learning that a realistic marriage requires attention, negotiations and a lot of resetting.

This year, we will probably go out for dinner like we usually do for our anniversary. And if I were to post a picture of us on our anniversary, I’m pretty sure my hashtag would read something like #20yearstogether. Understated but significant nonetheless.

– Andree Palmgren, LPC, has a private practice in Westport, CT and is a mom to four kids ages 16, 14, 11 and 6.



Parenting ADHD: The case of the guilt-ridden mom

mom holding upset boy

I’ve never thought of myself as the jealous type. I don’t think I’ve ever been driven by envy or jealousy. In all my 42 years, I’d never use either of those two words to describe myself, until recently.

You know that old joke, I was a great parent, until I had kids? That’s me.

Yesterday was hard. My son, who has ADHD, didn’t want to wake up for school and things escalated. Soon there was screaming (him), crying (both of us), and broken dishes all over the kitchen floor.

I never experienced anything like that before. Explosive tempers are new to me. This was a cold, hard slap in the face.

After we got everything together and made it to school, I sat in the parking lot for a while. Mostly, I was too upset to drive, but also, I replayed the morning’s events in my head. Would I have done anything differently? Replay. Replay. Replay.

No, I did it right. We’ve been going to therapy as a family and I stuck with the parenting recommendations. I kept my cool and didn’t raise my voice. I said, “I’m listening,” over and over. I gave reminders and chances; I set timers and established boundaries and expectations calmly. I deserved a medal for this skirmish.

Even though I did the best I could, these outbursts usher in guilt and envy for me because as I’m sitting there, watching the other parents bring their kids to school, I wish I was them. I wish it wasn’t so much of a relief for me to drop my child at school, that I didn’t relish the break so much. I wish picking him up from school didn’t hit me with trepidation. Can we play when we get home, or will there be meltdown after meltdown? Will we laugh at dinner, or cry?

I feel guilty because my son needs more attention than my daughter, but I want so badly to spend more time with her. Laughing, crafting and having fun. Instead, I find myself working so hard to switch my emotions to match the needs of each child, that flipping from funny mom to masking the frustration and anger is going to cause smoke to come out of my head.

I feel guilty because I get mad at him. I’m not the parent I want to be, and I blame his behavior. I love my kids with every ounce of my being, but this ADHD thing can suck it.

Parenting a kid with ADHD is hard and it affects the whole family. So many people think ADHD is a failure on mom and dad’s part to control their kid, provide discipline or even have a parental spine.

It’s not.

It’s learning how to parent a square-peg kid in a round-hole world. It’s knowing your kid’s brain is going a million miles an hour, and you just can’t keep up. It’s convincing yourself every day that you’re doing the best you can and tomorrow you’ll do better.

It’s not all bad, though. As fierce as my son is, he loves and protects just as ferociously. His creativity is a true joy to watch and his dimples still melt my heart. These are the things that keep me on track. These are the things that help me to soar.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.